NY Times to the rescue of a Netanyahu foe

What could possibly be deemed newsworthy by an American newspaper that a private Israeli television channel has fallen on bad financial times and might fold next month?  And to splash its possible demise on the front page, no less?

But leave it to the New York Times to give top prominence to  financially imperiled Channel 10, one of two Israeli independent TV outlets.  Why the Times would find this so compelling is readily apparent:  Channel 10 and the Times are ideological kindred spirits.  Just as a left-wing agenda drives the Times' news coverage, Channel 10 has been a thorn in the side of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right-of-center governing coalition.

Ergo:  The Times is pulling out all the stops to mount a rescue operation in support of Channel 10 with a two-column, front-page article by Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner, replete with dire warnings that democracy and a free press hang in the balance ("Israeli TV Station's Struggle Reflects a Wider Political War" front page, December 27).

Which is laughable once you take into account the fact that Israel's extensive, journalistic gamut leans heavily to the left and, if anything, it is conservative viewpoints which more often than not get shortchanged in the press.

Channel 10 has not spared Netanyahu.  It has published exposes of some of his lavish travels to Paris, London and New York before he became prime minister -- with bills paid by wealthy friends.  But now, Channel 10 is unable to pay off an $11 million debt owed on taxes and to a regulatory agency.  A parliamentary committee, with a majority of government coalition parties, has refused to extend the payment deadline for another year.

The irony is that Netanyahu in previous years intervened twice in support of Channel 10, hoping to expand the marketplace of ideas and debate.  But Channel 10's pugnacious exposes of Bibi seem to have turned the wheel --  the prime minister is suing for libel, and one of the station's owners, billionaire Ronald Lauder apparently won't dig deeper into his deep pockets, and the largest shareholder, Yossi Meiman, an Israeli political liberal, made an unfortunate investment in a gas pipeline from Egypt, which keeps getting blown up by terrorists in the Sinai.

To Bronner, all this leaves a very distressing picture of the right scoring points against the left in Israel's culture wars.

The only other independent Israeli TV station, Channel 2, he notes, also faces economic woes, leaving Netanyahu with supposedly strong influence over other media outlets -- state-owned Channel 1, State Radio and a widely distributed, free-of-charge newspaper, Israel Today, bankrolled by a Bibi friend, U.S. casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

But that's hardly a fair, objective way of tallying the political media and cultural score in Israel.  Bronner conveniently omits a bevy of imposing  counterweights that tip the scales the other way to the left -- the most widely read newspaper, Yedioth Ahronot, and far-left Haaretz, the favorite source for quotes in the western press, including  the New York Times.  To say nothing of Israel's left-leaning theater and literary world, and a big slice of academe.

Bronner doesn't dwell on all these influential leftist organs. His anti-Bibi agenda instead drives him to paint a doomsday picture, as he quotes first and foremost Nachman Shai, a founder of Channel 10 and now a parliamentary member of the opposition Kadima party, who warns that "the right wants to control every institution.  Freedom of expression is at risk."

In the same Paul Revere vein, Bronner uses the other bookend of his story, the last paragraph, to warn that the impending end of Channel 10 is "part of the struggle for control of public discourse in Parliament.  If we are left with only one commercial channel, we will be a weaker democracy." (Incidentally, if you want to plumb a reporter's agenda in any particular story, read the final quotation,  which source he/she ends up with.  It never fails.)

I view the brouhaha over Channel 10 in a somewhat different light.  Bronner's article actually  is part and parcel of an all-out New York Times campaign against conservative, right-of-center institutions - whether in the U.S. or in Israel.  For example, since Rupert Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal and turned it into a successful competitor to the Times, the Sulzbergers have gone after him, milking every jot and tittle of a hacking scandal at a Murdoch-owned British tabloid.  There's still plenty of pugnacity in the Old Lady.

The left, including the Times, is determined to retain command of cultural and media agendas.  It's ready to use every trick of the trade against right-leaning actors - whether it's Murdoch in the New York press wars or Netanyahu allies when they push back against Israel's dominant left.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers